Volume 30

Promoting Economic Mobility Through Adequate Community College Funding

by Emily L. Webb

Community colleges have the potential to be a powerful force to alleviate poverty in the United States. However, the persistent underfunding of community colleges inhibits their ability to meet the aspiration of economic mobility for all students as they serve students who have more significant needs with fewer resources than public or private four-year institutions of higher education. The challenges faced by community colleges mirror the circumstances faced by many K-12 schools in low-income communities and communities of color in the United States where limited school funding has contributed to inequitable access to opportunity and inhibited student outcomes. However, unlike the community college context, decades of litigation and strategic advocacy have contributed to improvements in K-12 school funding.

This Note argues that key lessons from the K-12 school funding litigation can be applied to the community college context to both increase funding available to community colleges and improve the funding pipeline so that it better accounts for the unique needs in the community college context. This would be achieved through a dual-pronged strategy. The first prong centers on litigation advancing the argument that states have a constitutional obligation to adequately fund community colleges. The second prong requires political advocacy at the state and federal levels. By taking a multi-pronged approach advancing both litigation and advocacy efforts, those seeking to achieve more adequate community college funding amplify their power and reach. Community colleges have the ability to promote economic mobility and alleviate poverty. Through collective legal and advocacy efforts, this potential can be realized.

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